Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — County supervisors have signed off to acknowledge a drone program for the county that officials say will aid emergency response efforts, but will likely expand into other departments.
“We have had conversations with the engineer’s office, GIS and County Conservation, in the event that they would like to utilize the drones,” Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Marissa Reisen said. “They would go through the same pilot courses that we go through.”
Reisen said the list of applications for unmanned aerial craft was long.
“We’ll be able to use them for search and rescue operations, I know the Sheriff’s office uses them in the event that a suspect runs on foot,” she said. “We’re also getting drones with thermal cameras so we can identify any hot spots for the firefighters … in the event of flooding we’ll be able to get a birds eye view.”
Chief Deputy Shawn Ellingson said the drones were well-suited for the county’s purposes.
“It is by far not the most expensive,” he said. “I was just up at NSA in Kansas City and they had $40,000 drones. So it’s conservative, but it’s what we need to do the job we want.”
The county plans to buy two DGI Mavick drones, carrying cases, an accessory package and extra battery packs. Along with the pilot class for county staff, the price comes in at $22,000, half of which is covered by a Riverboat Foundation grant. Once everything’s said and done, Reisen said ongoing costs would be minimal.
“Luckily, our neighbors to the north have the class pretty regularly, so we can send somebody up there without any issue,” she said. “Everyone is taking the class, but if they want to get their pilot license, that’s on them.”
County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said he was worried about using a product of the Chinese company. DJI was called out for cybersecurity issues in 2020 due to suspicious auto-update features for a drone-related Android app, as reported by New York Times.
“I know at one time there was talk about the computer chips in these things being produced by China, and China was collecting all the data,” he said. “Is there any possibility that there’s any Chinese hack with these?”
Ellingson said he was not strongly concerned about the possibility.
“I’m not sure that there’s really going to be much data that’s useful to the Chinese government in Washington County from us flying,” he said. “They’re going to get more from your cellphone than they probably are this drone.”